Friday, September 19, 2008

Can A Christian Be Confident About Salvation?

Let's be clear right up front.  Many Christians are very insecure about their salvation.  Some have the idea that salvation is something in a constant flux, moving from something one possesses, to something one loses.  Most of this insecurity is base on the performance level of the particular individual.  The thinking is that if one is "faithful" (usually meaning something like performing at a level near or at perfection), then one is saved.  But if one's performance level dips, even a slight bit, then salvation is lost.

This may not make a lot of sense to those who accept the idea of "once saved, always saved."  But it will resonate with a great many people who struggle with their faith, with a less than perfect performance level, and who wonder daily about their stand with God.  In fact, it is quite possible that the conflict over the "once saved, always saved" idea has produced this terribly insecure mindset.  I believe we need to recover the assurance of salvation.

It is not my intent to present a full discussion about "falling from grace."  However, let's be clear about something.  When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he said in Gal. 5:4 that some Christians had done just that - fallen from grace.  There is little reason to argue about the possibility, but there is good reason to discuss what it means.

An even more strongly stated passage is found in Hebrews 6:4-6.  There, the writer said that it's impossible to renew to repentance those who have fallen away.  We might not like these statements, and we might think they are insensitive or inconsistent with the prevailing modern theology, but they are there in scripture and deserve both attention and consideration.

The question, however, is this:  do these passages support the flimsy and insecure salvation that plagues so many Christians?  I have heard some people express the opinion that should one live in a saved condition, and suddenly find themselves headed toward a horrible car crash, and a fleeting evil thought flashes through their minds a split second before they wrapped themselves around a tree trunk, they would be lost.  I guess the thinking is that since the last thought was evil, and death took away the ability to repent, then that person's salvation is lost.  Personally, I think that's not only wrong, but a serious misunderstanding of the warnings found in scripture.

Here's what we need to consider.  The Hebrew writer spoke of a situation in which it was impossible for a person to be renewed to repentance.  The key word here is "impossible."  This is not a matter of sin because a person can always repent of a sin.  It's not a matter of being wrong on a doctrinal issue because a person can repent of an error.  The problem addressed by the Hebrew writer was abandoning Jesus, turning away from the faith, rejecting the only one who can save.

Something similar was under consideration in Galatians.  Read carefully the one verse most often quoted to prove that a person can fall from grace and you'll discover that we are also told exactly what those people did to fall from grace.  They were leaving God's salvation system of grace and instead were trying to be justified by law.  In other words, they were not looking to the sacrifice of Jesus to cleanse imperfect people.  Instead, they were putting their own efforts forth, depending on their own performance abilities, to be justified in the sight of God.

I will agree with the car-wreck example above to this extent:  if one is hoping that his or her performance abilities will achieve justification, then that last evil thought right before wrapping around the tree trunk will, indeed, result in being lost.  But that is not what Christian faith is, it does not accurately reflect the object of our faith, and it does not correctly explain our confidence in the promise of salvation.

The fact is we are not under a system of law that puts the demand of perfection on us.  Perfection, by the way, is exactly the kind of law that the New Testament constantly opposes.  If you're going to insist on the keeping of one command of law to be right with God, then you're going to have to keep the whole law.  The 10 Commandments is a good example.  God never said, "Hey, all you have to do is get a passing grade of 7 out of 10."  The only way to keep the 10 Commandments is to keep all ten of the commands.  Anything less is failure.  But grace is a system that provides forgiveness and justification for less than perfect people. Grace is the only system that provides for imperfect people what they cannot achieve for themselves.

Actually, two problems arise when we practice a performance-based faith.  The first is the one I've been addressing - a terrible insecurity.  This is because most of us recognize our failings, and we suspect there are many failings we don't even know about.  Those failures mean we know we are not living up to the standard, and if salvation means living up to the standard, then we become convinced that salvation is not secure.

The other problem is denial.  I've actually heard people make the claim that they just didn't have any sins!  They have to take that position because if they admitted to the presence of sin in their lives, they would have to admit to this horrible insecurity.  Desperately not wanting to suffer that insecure place with God, it's easier for them to just deny the presence of sin.  This is a very dangerous thing to do.  1 John 1:8-10 tells us that this kind of denial leaves us devoid of the truth.  If we want to be forgiven, we must be able to recognize and confess our sins.  But the great promise of this passage and others is that forgiveness is available!

The argument of some is that if we accept the idea I'm presenting here, then it will lead to a carelessness about sin, and people will be encouraged to live less holy lives.  All I can say to that is that the Bible itself takes the position I'm presenting here.  Is there the possibility that someone may play fast and loose with sin?  Sure, but so do those who end up in denial about the presence of sin in their lives.  There will always be someone who does that.  For the rest of us, we're much more interested in finding and doing the will of God.  But we know we're not perfect, even when we try.  Faithfulness isn't perfectness.  Faith is what imperfect people place in the One who was perfect.  Faith is trust, and trust leads to obeying.  The issue isn't our perfection.  The issue is that Jesus was perfect, his sacrifice was perfect, his blood is powerful enough to cleanse us, and keep on cleansing us.  That is the kind of effective saving we all need.

You want to be confident of your salvation?  Get it thoroughly in your head that you are not going to achieve it by your own performance level.  You will be saved by putting your faith in Jesus Christ.  Keep your faith in Jesus.  Always recognize your failings.  Confess those sins and repent of them.  Trust the Lord to keep his promise to save you.  You're not ever going to get everything perfect.  No problem.  The perfect God, sent his perfect Son, who gave a perfect sacrifice, all to save imperfect people.